The Familiar

Photo by Trinity Kubassek on
Photo by Trinity Kubassek on

The poem I’m sharing today is a personal poem. In fact, I forgot it existed because it was literally written for a friend to capture a specific moment in time we shared. I found it in my e-mail inbox, as I was searching for a poem to share today. What I choose to share is not always exactly what I’m feeling. Often, I try to read the space around me, the collective atmosphere, and sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason. Other times, there is something I’m struggling with and if it’s an ongoing thing that I’ve been writing about for a while, I will choose a poem that might reflect a theme in that. The reality is, this poem is about a direct struggle I was going through at the time. My mom was sick and one of my best friends and I had gone to a concert. She lost her mother when we were just going into our sophomore year of college; however, the effects that incident had on her life (from knowing her and what she has told me) have affected the majority of her adult life. The concert was in a college town (the two of us college friends since the very first day of college) were now two adults sitting outside our hotel after the bars closed and college students stumbled back to their dorms. Now, in our late thirties, at the time, we sat and watched these young people in this college town, that feels almost invincible to things like losing your parent or having someone close to you die, stumble home blissfully unaware of things to come in the future. We comforted each other that night and laughed a lot too. Re-reading this poem today, it just felt right to post. It’s a a poem about loss, friendship, and growing up together. It’s a poem about the power of the relationship between friends. Spouses and lovers, they sometimes are restricted to the access a friend can provide. In friendship, we see each other and we’re able to discuss flaws and faults, that, in our adult life, often come out in our relationships or our work or parenting. In friendship, those flaws don’t matter. I was talking with one of my best friends yesterday about this year and the pandemic. We actually celebrated my birthday just days before the country went on a ‘national lockdown in March.’ We discussed how that night seemed forever ago and just like yesterday. She discussed coming home from that night and discussing with her husband, who stayed home with their kids instead of joining us, so she could have a night out. She shared how when she came home she was just so happy. She stated, “I told him how great it was to be out with old friends and how nice it was to just be together.’ It was not a big celebration. It was myself, her, and another of my closest/longest friends, and we all just went to a small restaurant and had a nice dinner. Aside from my best friend’s wedding in January, it was the best night of the year. The conversation, on the phone, was started because I heard her daughter talking (and she sounded so much older than when I saw her last), which was over a year ago. With little kids that is a long time, and it made me sad that I was missing getting to see her daughter growing up and getting older. I had a hard day and we were discussing my job as a therapist. I shared with her that so much of my job is just validating for people what others have not or don’t, which is that ‘life is really beautiful at times and it’s really, really hard sometimes.’ It makes it a lot harder during this time when we don’t have our ‘familiars.’ I’m very good at being alone. I could keep myself busy all day. Perhaps it’s the Pisces sun sign, but it’s probably more the Aries Rising Ascendant in me. I get hooked on something and just study the hell out of it. in the pandemic I obsessed over astronomy and astrology (you’ll notice it in poems to come later). Even being who I am, when I read this poem this morning, it reminded me how much we need our ‘familiars.’ We need small dinners with friends or the concert with a friend. We need to be away sometimes from our daily lives, our families, spouses, etc. This is why friendship is such an important role. It’s a sacred role. Our friends hold our histories, allow us to be human, validate us, allow us to escape our day to day routines and realities. The best ones ‘just get us.’ We don’t have to try. They just know us at our core. If anything is ‘not right,’ right now (and there are many things that are not) it’s that we can’t just call up our ‘familiars’ and say, “I need to go have dinner this Friday,’ and they get it. This poem reminded me of how much I need my ‘familiars,’ and if there’s one thing I have dearly missed in this year, it’s them. My friend shared at the end of our call yesterday that when she came home from my birthday dinner and shared with her husband just what a magical night it was, he replied, ‘Well hopefully we can do it maybe a couple times a month,’ seeing how happy it made her. We both laughed at this comment because we had one brief dinner since then in the summer outside, socially distanced, and it was very short. There are many things that the pandemic has showed us are of great value to us, re-reading this poem was just validation that ‘friends,’ are of the greatest.


The early summer
the lake turned a glassy blue, pale as imitation amethyst
We sat outside the hotel in the early morning,
a chorus of erupting blossoms and drugged insects, the night
strangely humid. The night was
sharp, clear, hot.

“I have things to tell you,” you hiccuped as you dug through your purse
searching for your cigarette lighter. Something had entered us.
A hunter-
refusing to go back empty handed, humiliated.
Both of us could sense it, but neither of us wanted to lock the door.

Watching us, it never occurred to me that
hope is needed for their to be anger.
Your eyes bled it. The terminal now. The now I was learning.
The moment time freezes, terminally,
and you become an orphan.

“They were fighting more than usual that week,
and it was because of me,” you tell me. I look at you,
“That’s ridiculous. You know when a kid loses their parents that’s what they do.
They have an unfinished story, so they insert themselves in
wherever there’s a blank.” Your eye measured my statement.
“Is that true?” You looked incredibly sad.

I put my hand on yours and nodded. In your hushed voice,
intrusions. Draped in the sins
of the black holes of life
that can be marriage, death, religion. The capital glowed white
behind us
as we sat on the stoop under a giant tree.

The shade, the humidity,
imprinting themselves like flowers in our memories. You told me everything.
In-between confessions, we considered silence,
but the train was already a runaway with no driver. You look at me,
“I never had to watch my mom be sick. She was just gone.”

I close my eyes for a moment and pen them.
Lilac trees, maples, sycamores, elms
Drunk kids stumbling back to their carefree summer lives in a college town
that someday will end at the borders of four edges of a piece of paper.

Boys that looked like men smashing beer cans on each other’s foreheads.
Girls in trendy dresses giggling, without knowledge
that these boys don’t know how to make love. They are apes
and fuck like them.

You could almost feel the soreness between the girl’s legs watching it.
Watching them was like watching kids unaware fireflies die in jam jars.
My age felt unsolid. The geography felt unsolid.
“I think she’s going to be ok,” you tell me and hug me.

“Sometimes you just want it all back,” I smile.
“Doesn’t everybody?” you say inhaling smoke.
“Our marriages, our bodies, our mothers, our youth, our dreams, our cigars.”
The city seemed to be a fit and firm young body.
You could almost smell it. I looked at you,
“It’s not the world you planned, right?”
You nodded.

I reached out and grabbed your palm and kissed it.
You closed your fingers in a fist.
You held my kiss, my blessing,
and I knew from that moment on
you would have a piece of me always.

The thought warmed me. Separation didn’t feel so final.
It felt temporary, and our souls looked at each other and understood
“there is no notion of time and distance.” Souls
only know how it feels to be with one another.

We began to sing not knowing why
and with every sound, smile, confession,
it just felt like we’ve loved each other before
in another time, in another place-
and that made me not so worried about being orphaned.
We find our familiar.
We always do.

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